Glass cinema slides: promoting the feature films of The Rolling Stones.

Hope you are sitting down with a coffee (or some popcorn), because this is a story and a half! All about how some Rolling Stones memorabilia can help to unlock some history and reveal the past…

Glass advertising cinema slides are hard to find these days. Glass slides were first used in ‘magic lanterns’ in the 17th Century, and importantly, they were primarily used for entertainment purposes. Magic lanterns were an early photographic device, essentially being a lighted projector that was used to project images from a glass slide onto a screen. The technology was a natural fit for cinema theatres, from the very beginning of motion pictures and movie palaces. The images for glass cinema slides included product advertising, cinema house announcements (e.g.: “intermission”), and movie promotions. The glass slides are much larger than domestic slide transparencies, and much heavier. They are made from two plates of glass that have been stuck together – the advertising image (often a hand-tinted optical negative) is transferred onto one piece of glass via either contact printing or optical printing, and then a second plate of glass is stuck on top to protect the image. Both pieces of glass are then bordered by duct tape.

During the 1960s, American cinemas gradually ceased using glass advertising slides to promote movies, and starting using motion film trailers instead. However, this change was slow in some sections of the distribution network such as Drive In Theatres. Also, cinema advertisements for non-movies such as nearby restaurants and commercial products were still occasionally done with glass slides. On the other side of the world, it was a different story: glass slides promoting feature films continued to be used in many movie houses in Australian, Asian, and Southeast Asian markets. For example, the large Australian cinema chain known as ‘Hoyts’ used glass slides for advertising in many cinemas until 1985 (!!!). Further, transparency slides were used to promote nearby restaurants etc in many Australian cinemas well into the early 1990s. But glass cinema slides are now a relic from a pre-digital era. Today they are equally rare and fascinating, often beautifully made and always revealing many stories from the past.

Over the years I have managed to collect Australian glass cinema slides for the following Rolling Stones movies: Gimme Shelter (1970), Ladies And Gentlemen (1974), and Time Is On Our Side (1982) aka Let’s Spend The Night Together. All three glass slides were used in the Hoyts Regent Theatre in Sydney (it is worth noting other Hoyts Regent theatres in cities such as Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane all used glass slides; the particular slides in my collection have been traced to the Regent Theatre in George St Sydney). Examining these slides reveals fascinating details and history about Australian cinemas, Australian society, and film distribution.

The first slide is for the movie ‘Gimme Shelter’ (1970) directed by the Maysles Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin. The slide is heavy glass, and measures 10.7cm long by 8.3cm wide. The glass measures nearly 3mm thick. It is brightly coloured, with the inner image being hand-tinted a combination of rose pink and green. I purchased this from a seller in San Fransisco, who had purchased it from a collector. When it arrived in the mail and I was able to inspect it more closely, I spotted it had a logo for the Hoyts Regent Theatre in the bottom right corner. This was crucial in identifying further details! Hoyts is a large cinema chain in Australia, and in the early 20th Century they open a series of luxurious ‘Hoyts Regent Theatres’ across the country. Regent Theatres were opened in the capital cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth. These venues were primarily used as cinema houses, but some were later used to stage ballet, theatre, and even live rock concerts. Welcome to the Breakfast Show, Aussies.

The ‘Regent Theatre’ used this exact logo from the 1940s onwards. The logo on the ‘Gimme Shelter’ slide advertises that the cinema was “air conditioned!”. This text was also the standard advertising line used by Regent Theatres for many decades. You can imagine how appealing an air conditioned cinema must have been in tropical Brisbane in the 1940s! No wonder they promoted that aspect. This particular ‘Regent Theatre’ logo however is for the Sydney Regent George St venue and includes their old phone number 21-8177 (six digit phone numbers wouldn’t be phased out in Sydney until 1996!). This phone number was most likely just a recorded message with movie showing times. ie: 2 is for Sydney and the 1 represents an operator or recorded line, and 8177 relates to the theatre location. It is worth noting “Gimme Shelter” was released in the USA in December 1970. It probably would not be released in Australia for another year (standard practice at the time for most USA releases). All these details date the slide to 1971. 

The market for cinema advertising in Australia was dominated in the 1920s-2000s by a company called Val Morgan Cinema Advertising, who had a monopoly of sorts on the cinema advertising industry, which included the making of glass cinema slides. It is Val Morgan who most likely made this glass slide. This ‘Gimme Shelter’ glass slide indeed shares identical characteristics with other known documented glass slides made by Val Morgan. You can search online and find examples of these. Today they are sought by film buffs and movie collectors.

The second glass cinema slide is for the movie ‘Ladies And Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones’ (1974) directed by Rollin Binzer and produced by Marshall Chess. This slide is identical to the ‘Gimme Shelter’ slide in size, weight, and composition. It is made from heavy glass, and measures 10.7cm long by 8.3cm wide. The glass measures nearly 3mm thick. It is in incredible condition and very clean. I purchased this from the same seller in San Fransisco who sold me the ‘Gimme Shelter’ slide. They had both been previously owned by a film memorabilia collector.

The image uses an official LAG promotional tagline “The worlds first quadraphonic film”. But the screenings in Australia were most likely a monaural presentation. The history here is another instance where cinema and music culture have collided: unexpectedly, with the influence theatrical Cinerama had upon home stereo systems. Launched in 1952, Cinerama was a widescreen theatre projection system that included a surround sound experience. Cinerama was incredibly popular across the world, and notably, all of the major Australian Hoyts Regent theatres included Cinerama systems. Much has been written about Cinerama, but one area that has generally been overlooked is the influence it had upon the audiophile world. Cinerama was incredibly influential in establishing not only what a movie could look like, but what it could sound like. The surround sound system that accompanied these screenings made a huge impression on audiences. And it was memories of this surround sound that home quadraphonic systems appealed to. So the concept of a ‘quadraphonic’ cinema screening is somewhat strange, since a quadraphonic system was a weaker version of cinema surround sound. But because ‘quadraphonic’ was a buzz term in 1970s music, the word started attaching itself to music-related feature films in that decade. A closer inspection of those films (such as the 1975 ‘Tommy’ film) reveals they were not strictly quadraphonic, but actually something else. ‘Ladies And Gentlemen’ is still a cool film though! Keith sings ‘Happy’ in it, I mean, c’mon.

Initial screenings of ‘Ladies And Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones’ in the USA in 1974 used a unique method of renting whole cinemas and installing custom built sound systems to play and mix the ‘quadrasound’ soundtrack (note it was not actually quadraphonic, but something else entirely they called q-u-a-d-r-a-s-o-u-n-d). Referring to it as a ‘quadraphonic’ movie on posters, cinema slides, and in the press was effectively a marketing gimmick. After the initial screenings, the film was sold to Plitt Theatres, a huge cinema chain in the USA, who released the film in a regular monaural version. It was this monaural version that most likely screened in Australia (ironically, through the surround sound speaker system of the Regent Theatres).

Identical in size and composition to the ‘Gimme Shelter’ glass slide, this ‘Ladies And Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones’ was most likely also made by Val Morgan. Searching online for other Val Morgan glass cinema slides, you can see the similarities. Remember the slides are hard to find nowadays. This one is in such good condition, I am thinking maybe because the ‘Ladies And Gentlemen’ film had a limited screening run in Australia, so it was handled far less than the ‘Gimme Shelter’ slide was. ‘Gimme Shelter’ of course remains popular on the midnight cinema circuit to this day. ‘Ladies And Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones’ was a much rarer beast.

The third slide is for the concert movie ‘Time Is On Our Side’ (1982) directed by Hal Ashby (released in the USA as ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’). I purchased this from a film memorabilia collector in Australia. This glass slide is different to the ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘Ladies And Gentlemen’ slides in size, weight, and composition. It is still made from heavy glass, but it is thinner and has different dimensions. It measures 8.2cm long by 8.2cm wide. The glass measures 2mm thick. It is in incredible condition and very clean. It is brightly coloured, with the inner image being hand-tinted in several areas. The inner image is taken from official publicity materials for the film.

Whilst the glass slides for ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘Ladies And Gentlemen’ were most likely made by Val Morgan, I can confirm the glass slide for ‘Time Is On Our Side’ was made by a Sydney business called The Film Centre. When I purchased this item, it came from a collection of early 1980s glass slides that had all been distributed to NSW theatres by The Film Centre. Interestingly, back in the day The Film Centre offered many services including the making of movie props and costumes. It was based locally, worked for the film industry, and had the equipment and technicians to be able to make the glass slides. So why did the change from Val Morgan to The Film Centre as a source for glass slides occur? It is fact that this slide was made in The Film Centre “for NSW theatres”. I think you can guess who the theatre was! I think the story is simply this: Val Morgan were the dominant industry player and made the slides for ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘LAG’, but by the 1980s they were no longer interested in glass cinema slides to promote feature films, using motion film trailers instead. Subsequently, the Hoyts Regent Theatres commissioned the 1982 slide for ‘Time Is On Our Side’ as a specialty product from The Film Centre.

And so it was, but all good things must come to an end. The Regent Theatre in George St Sydney permanently closed in 1984, and was sadly demolished in 1988. “This town’s in tatters, I’ve been shattered” as Mick sings in the ‘Time Is On Our Side’ film.

Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I had putting it together! Thanks to Regent Plaza Theatres FB Group and Matt from back_to_the_flicks for their help. Thanks also to Stones collectors and movie buffs from around the world .

Some good sites for further reading are:

Further reading on ‘magic lanterns’ and glass cinema slides, part 1:

Further reading on ‘magic lanterns’ and glass cinema slides, part 2:

Further reading on ‘magic lanterns’ and glass cinema slides, part 3:

Further reading on the history of glass slides:

Examples of Val Morgan glass cinema slides:

Examples of vintage Regent Theatre ‘air conditioning’ logos and advertisements:

Details on all the different Regent Theatres in Australia:

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